Monday, 28 April 2014

Ironmasters Challenge 50km race

The original plan was to run a 50k trail race down in Virginia last weekend but the car issues put paid to that on the outskirts of DC last Friday night.. so after spending a few days in DC sorting the car out I drove back and quickly scoured the web for a new race this weekend.. ideally Sunday as we planned a 5k Saturday. The options were NJ marathon which was offering seeded places or Ironmasters 50k.. Unfortunately NJ marathon wouldn't accept my marathon PR as a qualifier as it wasn't registered in the Athlinks database - muppets - so instead I went for the 50k out in rural PA.

Saturday Gwen and I drove out to a local 5k and both won, I ran a steady 17:20 and Gwen 20:50 to take a decent amount of cash in prize money.. 2nd was 19:40 so I was quite happy to be able to sit on 5:30-5:40 pace and not take too much out of my legs for Sundays 50k.

Arriving out at Pine Furnace SP at around 6:30 pm I wanted to get a quick run in to check some of the course, just get an idea of what I was facing the next day. Ideally that would have been the first 5k or so but I ended up checking out a hilly section from miles 20-23, which turned out well. For $25, and $5 for a pizza, you could stay in the dorms at the Ironmasters Mansion so I took that option and by 12:00 was regretting that.. you've never heard such horrific snoring.. 6 of them snoring away, all with different snoring.. did my nut in so eventually I found a couch and grabbed a few hours kip there before getting up at 4:30 am when all the race prep started.

Pretty shattered I made my way to registration and was pretty alarmed to see quite a few decent runners.. I'd expected to win quite easily which suited me as this was very much just a long training run for Ice Age in 2 weeks.. At 7:30 we set off and 3 of us went into the lead, one lad seemed to want to push it so I sat behind him and we turned off the road following the orange tape, passed an orange flag and went along this track for a good km before we all started having doubts, there was just no tape.. and more crucially no one behind us.. the race profile also showed 2 miles of climb early on, not 1 mile flat.. I turned back, 3rd seemed unsure and the guy ahead carried on.. eventually the guy in 3rd followed me which was the right call as a km back we found the correct turn off.. there was a small flag on the floor, at that flag if you turned your head to look over your right shoulder you'd see another flag.. but in a race you'd not do that.. taping wasn't great through the whole race. So now the options were quit.. or push on and try to catch. The detour had cost us a good 1.4 miles plus a few moments thinking so I guessed I was 15 minutes off the leaders, which if it was won in around 5 hours I reckoned I could get that back and still win so pushed on - I needed one last long run regardless so there was no real option..

Soon I caught the back walkers and started to pass the field on rough rocky trails with steep ascents and descants, most seemed to understand that I had gone wrong but others seemed to see me as a direct competitor and would try to race me as I passed.. eventually it all thinned out and I realised I was catching up to around the top 10 about 10km in.. I was working way too hard and also was not eating as I knew food points were miles 8, 18.5 and 28.5.. so I had 10 miles towards the end with no food so saved my gels til then as I knew I'd be struggling with such a hard start behind me.

At the first food station I was around the top 5 and feeling pretty confident as long as nothing went too wrong but then started having route issues again.. you'd get a flag and then nothing, eventually after following a trail you'd find another flag, sometimes flag and tape were every 20 yards, other times it would be 100's of meters depending on who had taped it. The other issue was sometimes an orange flag on the floor meant a turn, other times it also suggested better ground to run.

Looking at the race profile the first 8 and last 8 were the hardest miles miles on the course where all the major climbs were so I was pretty happy to be moving into good running with clear paths. The trails from now on were moderately undulating, leaf covered, rocky with occasional tree roots, whilst not great I find that my pace holds up better on rough terrain like that than others so was pretty happy with now the day was going and soon enough caught 3rd placed. Up until now I was constantly being told 1st was 10 minutes ahead which I didn't get as I was sure I should have been gaining as I'd opened up a gap early on easily enough. Finally I got told first was 2.5 minutes ahead and after a short climb I finally saw two heads bobbing in the distance around 12 miles in - I gave a little fist pump here which was maybe a tad early as there was still the best part of 20 miles to run after a very hard start. Soon enough I caught these two and moved into the lead, one of them was last years winner so it was good to catch him and be able to relax a bit. I was a tad worried about the guy who was just ahead when we got lost so tried to push on but the heat was now really getting up. I knew I had two steep climbs to come but these were only 500-600ft each and quickly went past and then from miles 27 down it was generally down hill on good runnable trails. The last one around 24 miles was long enough to cause a few walking sections, especially over the scree higher up, but it was a lovely area to finish on.

The only fright was crossing a snake (I think a ribbon snake) on a last climb but other than that it was a pretty uneventful run in and I eventually finished just under 4:49, which I think may be a new record. I'm pretty sure sub 4:30 would be possible knowing the course and racing it more rather than a tempo start and cruise finish.

On my watch I made it bang on 50k, that was with the detour, most made it around 29-30 miles, but in the trees GPS may be off. It's wheel measured to 50k.

Strava details here:

Pictures below off the recce the night before and the finish area.

nice race, very friendly atmosphere, just needs to sort the taping a bit more, but otherwise lovely little event. Entry was $70 which for 3 food stations, a nice t shirt, 2 beers and a meal was good value. Nice to see a new area of the Appalachian mountains too.


  1. Good confidence boost. I would've been scared at the snake.

  2. Thanks, good luck next week, hope the preps gone well.. Think it was a garter snake now, but almost all snakes around here are non-venemous but there are a few nasties..

  3. Wonderful pictures, it must have been a great event!